I wasn’t the only one. Tom Boswell led his Game 7 column with the fountains. My pal Bryan, in his very last Post Sports night shift, tweeted about the fountains. So did a whole bunch of my friends, and my weird online pseudo-friends, and the rest of the bizarrely insular crew of D.C. sports fans who went through the last 15 months together.
Why do that, after a loss? It’s because the Stanley Cup sprint never really ended. We went from the euphoria of last June straight into the parade, and then the weeks of Stanley Cup visits, and then the talk of a title defense. Before you even noticed we crashed right into the first week of October, and Washington was routing the Bruins, and a banner was going into the rafters, and Gallery Place was packed with happiness again, and this very weird season was underway.
The Caps were never great in this very weird season, but they were never really disappointing, either. They looked like a very slightly worn out version of their late 2018 selves. In their peak, they absolutely had you thinking about a repeat. In their valleys, they were still creditable. In the main, they were everything you could have hoped for: a veteran team with a first-year coach, fighting through fatigue and expectations and the normal vagaries of an NHL season and emerging with a division title and home-ice advantage and a perfectly fine chance to defend their championship.
But the whole thing felt connected to the last thing, and so when these thrilling Carolina Hurricanes dominated overtime, and then double overtime late Wednesday night, and then when they won, and then when Alex Ovechkin and his teammates applauded the departing crowd and blew a kiss and skated away, that felt, finally, like the end. The fountains weren’t the end. The beer wasn’t the end. The caviar and babies weren’t the end. The end was that salute.
I know some people felt pretty sour by then. The Capitals had a 2-0 series lead, and a 3-2 series lead, and 2-0 and 3-1 leads in Game 7, and the path to the finals felt relatively open, and it isn’t fun to lose. Heck, I asked my newsletter readers on Wednesday whether they’d be crushed by a loss, because it seemed like maybe they would be.
But right now, as I type, sometime between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m., that whole question feels almost disrespectful. This season was last season, part of a 12- or 13-month trip to some weird place I had never been before, and it had an arc, and that arc ended with the gas meter on empty but the happiness meter somewhere above that.
It’s all different now. I think about the shirts a lot, so I’ll mention it again: You see Caps gear everywhere. Maybe it’s not like Philadelphia or Boston, but Washington is not Philadelphia or Boston. The cadre of people here who obsess over local sports teams is smaller. It’ll always be that way. But the numbers grew, because of what the Caps did over a few weeks last spring.
So you see the shirts and the hats and the sweaters everywhere, at least compared to the way it was 20 years ago, when you saw them nowhere. You dress your own kids in those shirts. You look at the Capitals logo differently, too. That logo used to signify a sort of tragic-comic suffering. It used to have a stigma. And then it just became a symbol of pride and success.
It’s stupid. We all know it’s stupid. But tell me you don’t see that logo differently now than you did a year ago. That you don’t remember all those scenes — the Kuznetsov winner against the Penguins, the Portrait Gallery steps, the on-ice joy in Vegas, the peace-love-and-happiness downtown, the parade, the fountains — and grin a little.
My family went to the Bahamas in February. It was only four days, a blip in our lives, and it had plenty of hiccups: a missed connection, a fog of frustration in a Florida airport, a sweaty search for a potty in downtown Nassau, some middle-of-the night toddler tears. But I remember that trip as something pure and good, a shiny coin in a piggy bank filled with packing peanuts. I remember what the Capitals did last spring the same way.
The franchise had been desperate to purge its cursed postseason image; its superstar had been desperate to slaughter his asterisk; its city had been desperate, absurdly desperate, for some communal sporting success, something to justify all those hours of caring. Now those few weeks — which didn’t make a lot of sense after that regular season, and which couldn’t possibly have been as carefree as I remember — stand as a postcard from paradise.
I got old along my way, writing silly online content about D.C. sports, and I can’t imagine any other title will resonate quite like that one. Wednesday night was plenty stressful, because Game 7 double overtime can’t be anything but. The ending felt empty, because how else could it feel?
But it wasn’t the emptiness of 2009 or 2010, of 2016 or 2017. It wasn’t anything like that. It was the ending of a favorite book that you just wanted to go on for one more chapter. You didn’t want Alyosha Karamazov to go away. You wanted a little more time.
There’s almost nothing innocent about professional sports (or about adulthood, really), but that fountain at least provided the hint. It finally dried up, way too late on Wednesday night. And at the end, probably a lot of us thought back to the beginning. In our memories, the party is still going. That’s no small thing.
(And look, I write this knowing it will read cloyingly over-the-top in the sober morning. But hey, it’s not the sober morning where I am.)
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